Habilayn (Thumier)

The author is indebted to Richard Grevatte-Ball for producing this write-up on Habilayn airstrip.

Habilayn, formerly known as Thumier (during the 1964 Radfan campaign) was the main base for all operations in Area West. Realistically these covered the continued unrest in the Radfan hills and the long border with Yemen, down to the Red Sea at Perim Island, at the major crossing point on the sole vehicle-capable road into Yemen, just north of Dhala.

Habilayn (known by that name by 1966) was a long strip that was maintained with a hard surface by constant applications of used engine oil and was capable of taking every aircraft type up to and including the Beverley, Valetta and DC-3. When newly treated with oil, the undersides of visiting aircraft became splattered with oil, much to the irritation of the ground crews! Habilayn was also a permanent army base with a tented encampment, the tents being protected by stone walls up to 3 ft high. It was large enough to accommodate a battalion-sized force of some 600 men, who were rotated every two months or so from Aden, plus a joint Army/RAF HQ element. Incoming dissident fire at night was a frequent occurrence!

The Army Air Corps maintained an armed Scout helicopter on permanent detachment at the base, plus a number of Sioux observation helicopters and AAC Beavers frequently overnighted. Wessex helicopters from 78 Squadron used the strip to fly re-supply sorties to the troops in the hills on a daily basis requiring a couple of aircraft to be stationed there on rotation from Khormaksar. Their compound was also protected by stone walls.

The photographs in this gallery were all taken by Richard Grevatte-Ball during the final two years of British rule in Aden.

A pair of 78 Sqn Wessex, XS676-J and XR522-O, land troops on a rugged Radfan mountainside. Of note are the bulky Bergen rucksacks, SLR rifles and no helmets.

No sooner has the last man evacuated the aircraft then XS676 lifts off and heads back to Habilayn for another load.

This time it is a 105 mm gun which is being steadied as XS676-J lifts off .....

..... and departs for the Radfan mountains .....

Deploying these guns into the mountains by Wessex extended range of operations and caught the dissidents off guard on several occasions.

..... closely followed by a second Wessex, XR522-O, carrying another 105 mm gun.

Looking north across Habilayn runway and XT602-S is about to lift off with a cargo net full of essential supplies.

The nets contained items such as; water, empty sand bags, compo rations and ammunition.


XS676 hovers feet above the ground to allow Army Air Despatchers to attach a cargo net full of supplies destined for the front line troops.

The Despatchers were trained by the RAF and belonged to 60 Squadron RCT which was based in Aden to support the RAF.

A RN Wessex this time, XS880-343 from HMS Hermes, awaits its next assignment

Navy Wessex regularly operated out of Habilayn when the carriers were off shore to relieve RAF crews and provide invaluable training in heavy-lifting in ‘hot and high’ conditions with very limited landing areas

Richard took the two photographs in the Radfan hills when acting as Observer/FAC in an Army Sioux helicopter as his Beaver was temporarily unserviceable at Habilayn. He and his small team landed just before the Wessex to clear the landing Site (LS).

Twin Pioneers from 78 Squadron and AAC Beavers flew daily ADS (Aircraft Delivery Service) flights from Aden delivering mail, urgent spares and personnel. Heavy equipment was flown up by 84 Squadron Beverleys most days and bulk stores were delivered via the only road using Army trucks under armed escort. Communications were manned 24 hours a day and an RAF Crash Crew detachment provided rescue services. Away form the runway, PSP metal sheeting was laid at the helicopter parking and cargo loading areas, the whole being revetted. There must have been a well for water somewhere! The base was kept spick-and-span by the army battalion in residence and it was amusing to witness a unit change-over; signs received a change of colour as did the painted stone pathways! Literally, tons of paint must have been squandered on this!